After Capitol violence, President Trump faces reckoning

After years of treating United States President Donald Trump’s inflammatory rhetoric with a light touch, Facebook and Instagram are silencing his social media accounts for the rest of his presidency. The move, which many called justified following Wednesday’s insurrection at the U.S. Capitol, is also a somber reminder of the enormous power that social-media platforms can exercise when they choose.

Facebook and Instagram said Thursday they will bar Mr. Trump from posting at least until the inauguration of President-elect Joe Biden.

The announcements are part of a growing chorus condemning the president’s failure to prevent pro-Trump supporters from overtaking the Capitol on Wednesday afternoon, resulting in one fatality. Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer is calling on Mr. Trump’s Cabinet to remove him from office following Wednesday’s violent assault on the Capitol by the president’s supporters. Mr. Schumer said Vice President Mike Pence and the Cabinet should invoke the 25th Amendment and immediately remove Mr. Trump from office. He added, “If the vice president and the Cabinet refuse to stand up, Congress should reconvene to impeach the president.”

Former Attorney General William Barr says President Donald Trump’s conduct as a violent mob of his supporters stormed the U.S. Capitol was a “betrayal of his office and supporters.”

In a statement to The Associated Press, Mr. Barr said Thursday that “orchestrating a mob to pressure Congress is inexcusable.”

Is this America? A breach in peaceful transition of power.

Mr. Barr was one of Trump’s most loyal and ardent defenders in the Cabinet.

Businesses are also calling for Mr. Trump’s resignation. Forbes reported a growing list of prominent business figures who have sharply criticized Mr. Trump. The businesses, who have benefited from Mr. Trump’s policies, include the National Association of Manufacturers, the largest manufacturing trade association in the United States based in Washington. Ecommerce platform Shopify has permanently banned two online storefronts selling official Donald Trump merchandise, according to AdWeek.

In a post announcing the unprecedented move, Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg said the risk of allowing Mr. Trump to use the platform is too great following the president’s incitement of a mob that touched off a deadly riot in the U.S. Capitol on Wednesday.

Mr. Zuckerberg says Mr. Trump’s account will be locked “for at least the next two weeks” but could remain locked indefinitely.

“The shocking events of the last 24 hours clearly demonstrate that President Donald Trump intends to use his remaining time in office to undermine the peaceful and lawful transition of power to his elected successor, Joe Biden,” Mr. Zuckerberg wrote.

Mr. Trump has repeatedly harnessed the power of social media to spread falsehoods about election integrity and the results of the presidential race. Platforms like Facebook have occasionally labeled or even removed some of his posts, but the overall response has failed to satisfy a growing number of critics who say the platforms have enabled the spread of dangerous misinformation.

In light of Wednesday’s riot, however, Mr. Zuckerberg said a more aggressive approach is needed.

“The current context is now fundamentally different, involving use of our platform to incite violent insurrection against a democratically elected government,” he wrote.

Instagram, which is owned by Facebook, will also block Mr. Trump’s ability to post on its platform “indefinitely and for at least the next two weeks,” Adam Mosseri, the head of Instagram tweeted Thursday.

Twitter also locked Mr. Trump’s accounts for 12 hours after he repeatedly posted false accusations about the integrity of the election. Mr. Trump’s account deleted those posts, Twitter said; had they remained, Twitter had threatened to extend his suspension. That suspension was set to expire sometime Thursday; the president had not yet resumed tweeting as of late Thursday morning.

A company spokesman said the company could take further action as well.

“We’re continuing to evaluate the situation in real time, including examining activity on the ground and statements made off Twitter,” the spokesman said. “We will keep the public informed, including if further escalation in our enforcement approach is necessary.”

Meanwhile, the platforms continued to face criticism from users who blamed them, in part, for creating an online environment that led to Wednesday’s violence.

Thomas Rid, a Johns Hopkins cyberconflict scholar, tweeted “kudos and respect” to Mr. Zuckerberg and Facebook shortly after the announcement that Mr. Trump’s account would be locked for two weeks.

“Clearly the right move,” Mr. Rid said. “Consistent incitement to political violence is not acceptable. Twitter should do so as well.”

A message left with the White House on Thursday morning was not immediately returned.

On Wednesday, Twitter and Facebook had temporarily suspended Mr. Trump from posting to their platforms after the violent assault on the Capitol. It was the most aggressive action either company has yet taken against Mr. Trump, who more than a decade ago embraced the immediacy and scale of Twitter to rally loyalists, castigate enemies, and spread false rumors.

While some cheered the platforms’ actions, experts noted that the companies’ actions follow years of hemming and hawing on Mr. Trump and his supporters spreading dangerous misinformation and encouraging violence that have contributed to Wednesday’s violence.

Jennifer Grygiel, a Syracuse University communications professor and an expert on social media, said Wednesday’s events in Washington, D.C. are a direct result of Mr. Trump’s use of social media to spread propaganda and disinformation, and that the platforms should bear some responsibility for their inaction.

“This is what happens,” Mx. Grygiel said. “We didn’t just see a breach at the Capitol. Social media platforms have been breached by the president repeatedly. This is disinformation.”

Mx. Grygiel said the platform’s decision to remove the video – and Twitter’s suspension – are too little, too late.

“They’re creeping along towards firmer action,” Mx. Grygiel said, calling Mr. Trump “Exhibit A” for the need for greater regulation of social media. “Social media is complicit in this because he has repeatedly used social media to incite violence. It’s a culmination of years of propaganda and abuse of media by the president of the United States.”

In a statement Thursday morning, Mr. Trump acknowledged defeat in the election for the first time and said there would be an “orderly transition on January 20th.” His aides posted the statement on Twitter because his account remained suspended.


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